I had this odd connection to Jesus for awhile before I “became a Christian” (whatever that really means, since I very much feel like I’m still becoming one). I remember reading the Bible for the first time in middle school and being shocked by the authority of Christ. He was Lord and it even seemed to me that he was God. Not only that, but with his authority and glory, he chose to expose the cycle of violence, the corrupt religious systems, the empire, and reveal a greater way, through absolute weakness and in complete love. This picture of God, so fully surrendered for the sake of the cosmos, was confrontational.
The ideas of God I was offered seemed inadequate when compared to God in Christ. The way Jesus lived and even the way Jesus died (and rose), revealed God’s desire to completely restore all people. The truth is I didn’t see that in Unificationism. The God of Unificationism may have a broken heart for his fallen creation, but he also held grudges. Forgiveness was earned through man’s suffering and complete restoration was just about impossible.
For a few years I didn’t know what to do with these growing notions about Jesus. I battled them with the Divine Principle’s chapter on Christology and told myself that the divinity of Christ and the Trinity was fundamentalist nonsense. I openly mocked these ideas among Unificationists, but something in me knew there was more to Jesus than what we were told.
Jesus was talked about from time to time, mostly positively, but we were also told he was a failed messiah and that the average Unificationist was spiritually greater than him. To some who grew up in dogmatic Christian traditions, these ideas may have come across as progressive and even liberating, but to me, I often felt revolted by these claims.
My process of leaving the Unification Church had little to do with Jesus, though. I don’t doubt that he was involved in it but I initially began leaving because I realized that the Unification Church was a manipulative and abusive cult. I accepted that Moon failed to meet the Divine Principle’s criteria of a messiah and that he was behind many of the abusive practices of the church. These revelations were the result of reading Nan Sook Hong’s book In the Shadow of the Moons, which left me deeply disturbed and unable to be associated with the Unification Church in good conscience.
I will say, though, that as I was leaving, those feelings about Jesus kept bubbling up. I again, even more aggressively, tried to shut up that voice in me that kept saying “Jesus is Lord” by reading my brother’s copy of Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great and listening hours and hours of anti-theist and “historical Jesus” rhetoric on YouTube. I was done with fundamentalism, I was done with being foolish, I was done with being deceived, and I was done with being used. I didn’t want to jump into another religion, especially with those ignorant, close-minded folks who liked Jesus, too. I knew about creationism and Ken Ham, I knew about speaking in tongues, I knew about youth group games, I knew about Jack Chick tracts, I knew about Christian rock, and I wanted nothing to do with it all.
But as conflicted as I was, in the deepest place in my heart, I wanted Jesus. I wanted that way of peace, I wanted that simplicity, I wanted that unconditional love, and I wanted to know him. I wanted to know the Cosmic Scapegoat, the Lamb who was slain, the God who became man.
One night in my bedroom, in the dark, I paced in anxiety, and even in anger, haunted by this infestation of faith in Christ. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to have anything to do with those wacky Evangelicals, or any religion, for it all had the potential to become something as poisonous as the group I was leaving. I often repeat this Richard Rohr quote, which is frequently applicable and makes sense out of this situation: Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.
For some reason, that night, I knew I had to give my life to Jesus. I hated how much I knew the inevitability of this, but also something in me couldn’t wait any longer. I felt the weight of this conviction come upon me suddenly. I fell to my knees and repented, cried out, and called upon Jesus to be my Lord. And I felt free.
Before I realized that I was in a cult, I prayed every day of my life without fail. And yet, it was that night when I prayed to Jesus that I finally felt heard. I felt known by the God of the universe. I don’t say that to deny the experience of those with different spiritual perspectives, because I am confident that God has a relationship with every individual, but I am also confident that I met God that night in prayer, and it was through Christ.
It’s been six years since that night. I cannot say I have always been the most faithful disciple or that I’ve even consistently walked in the Light. In fact, I often deal with shame for the number of mistakes I’ve made despite knowing Jesus. It’s been a hard, sloppy six years and honestly, I haven’t made it easy on God. Very early on, I figured out that one reason why the Holy Spirit is called the comforter is because her peace and consoling were much-needed after her sometimes brutal confrontations. I’ve cleverly found ways to drown out her voice and avoid the Light shining on my sin, but she always finds a way to deal with my stubborn self. Because of that I will never stop testifying to the way God always draws me back into the richness of Christ’s abundant life. I’ve discovered power in weakness, undiscriminating and unceasing love, and a hope and peace that somehow remains when my world is falling apart. God is faithful.
All this to say, thank you, Jesus. And happy anniversary.